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On this day in boxing history: Mike Tyson invades Japan, knocks out Tony Tubbs in 1988

Decades before Mike Tyson was associated with a money-spinning, super-hyped hokum bout against YouTuber Jake Paul, he was the undisputed heavyweight champion and arguably the most famous sportsman in the world.

A spectacular second-round knockout over WBC titleholder Trevor Berbick in November 1986 saw Tyson become the youngest heavyweight champ in boxing history, a record that stands to this day.

The Brooklyn-born destroyer would go on to unify the crown, and by the time he butchered aging great Larry Holmes in January 1988, his record stood at a formidable 33-0 (29 KOs).

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At that stage of his pro career, Tyson had boxed exclusively in the United States. However, there was a world outside of New York and Las Vegas, and promoter Don King was eager to cash in on his flagship fighter’s drawing power overseas.

As a young Tyson decimated the heavyweight division, he became a cultural phenomenon, and no more so than in Japan. “The Land of the Rising Sun” hadn’t hosted a heavyweight championship bout since George Foreman splattered the hapless Jose Roman inside a round in September 1973 and Tyson-mania provided the perfect comeback opportunity for the country.

King would work in conjunction with acclaimed Japanese promoter Akihiko Honda. The opponent didn’t matter — after all, this was the Mike Tyson show — and former WBA champion Tony Tubbs was drafted in as the sacrificial lamb.

The knock on the rotund Tubbs was that he could get lazy in training camp. Indeed, so paranoid were the Japanese about the prospect of an embarrassing mismatch that they promised to pay the challenger an additional $50,000 if he weighed in at 235 pounds or less. Tubbs missed the extra 50 Gs by over three pounds.

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The fight took place at the Tokyo Dome on March 21, 1988. Tubbs, who was deceptively quick for a man of his size and shape, enjoyed a good first round. He speared Tyson with the jab, gave him some movement, and let his hands go in eye-catching bursts.

However, this was not the Tyson who closed out his career in ignominious fashion with a loss to the ordinary Kevin McBride in 2005. This was not the recent social media version that scares a new generation of fans with noisy mitt work routines. This was a prime, trained by Kevin Rooney, needle-sharp world champion.

Tubbs didn’t have a prayer.

Late in round two, Tyson landed his signature combination – a right to the body followed by a right uppercut to the chin. Momentarily held up by the ropes, it wasn’t clear how hurt Tubbs was as the referee broke the fighters out of a clinch. The Japanese crowd was about to find out.

As he tried to walk forward, the challenger’s massive body began to give way in sections. Noticing his opponent’s plight, a rampaging Tyson closed the distance and just missed with a potentially lethal left hand as Tubbs hit the canvas. There was no need for a count as trainer Odell Hadley jumped into the ring and ran to his fighter’s aid.

This was the routine display of devastation that Tyson fans had come to expect.

Three wins later, the champion would return to the Tokyo Dome for another walkover job against James “Buster” Douglas. When that night was over, Tyson and Japan would be unalterably linked in a way that no one expected.

This was the last big fight of Tubbs’ career. The Cincinnati native retired in 2006 with a record of 47-10 (25 KOs).

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